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Educating for Equity: How One Teacher Mentors School Leaders of Color

Greg Kwasnik
With calls for racial justice reverberating across the nation and the world, schools everywhere - including Holderness School - are grappling with questions of how to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive places to learn, live, and teach. It’s in that environment that English teacher and Dean of Students John Lin is actively mentoring the next generation of school administrators of color.
This summer, for the second straight year, John served as a facilitator for the Friends Institute for New Administrators of Color, a workshop for educators of color who are new to administrative roles in independent schools. During the weeklong workshop run through Friends Academy in New Bedford, Mass., John and other independent school leaders of color helped their new colleagues to develop self-awareness about their own identities, learn about the institutional culture of independent schools, and navigate leadership as people of color.
 
“People of color still need mentorship and guidance and help and assistance, and just a group of people they can go to and ask questions of along their journeys,” John says of educators of color who assume leadership roles. “All of a sudden your role changes and how does being a person of color then affect the role that you’re now going to step into?”
 
The work of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion isn’t new to John. Throughout his three-decade career in independent schools, he has been an active participant in diversity initiatives through the National Association of Independent Schools, working as a faculty member at its summer diversity conference and serving as a facilitator at its People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference. John has also mentored colleagues through API-Chai, a listserv of Asian-American, Asian, and Pacific Islander educators. That’s where he met and mentored Susan Yao, Middle School Head at Friends Academy. It was Susan who founded the Friends Institute for New Administrators of Color in 2019 and enlisted John to help.
 
In its first two years, the Institute has welcomed more than 20 new administrators of color from as far afield as Denver, Colorado and from nearby schools like Andover, Milton Academy, and Buckingham Browne & Nichols School. They face unique challenges in assuming their new roles, John says, including implicit, or unconscious, bias from colleagues who might respond differently to an administrator of color.
 
“They may not be conscious of their response, but their response will be different based on just the initial superficial look as to who I am,” John says, referring to his own self-identification as an Asian heterosexual man. “They bring with them a certain set of assumptions about whatever they’ve been taught or learned or know about Asian people and Asian culture and it will take the administrator of color to either confirm or contradict their assumption. It’s not necessarily something that happens when two white people meet one another.”
 
One of the stated goals of the Institute is to provide new administrators of color with the tools to become effective change agents within their schools. Over a week of one-on-one mentorship, panel discussions, and workshops, the Institute teaches these new administrators how to effectively tell their stories, navigate power structures and build influence within their schools, and to practice self-care and identify their thresholds for risk and challenge within traditionally white spaces. It’s a format that has proven very successful, with several of last year’s participants returning as mentors this summer. John hopes to grow that pool of mentors to provide even more support to new administrators of color in the future.
 
Ultimately, John says, administrators of color can only make so much change by themselves. To truly improve a school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion, John says, it’s up to the white staff and administrators to do some real, necessary work - like hiring more faculty and administrators of color, admitting more students of color, establishing a multicultural curriculum, and creating a welcoming environment for all students, faculty, and administrators of color.
 
“If we’re not in earnest to try to change the environment into which they come, why would we bring in somebody that we like and love into a community where they’re going to have a bad experience?”
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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness, NH 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257